Most people couldn't believe their eyes and ears as they sat in Hialeah council chambers Thursday night and the misguided miscreant electeds ignored the pleas of residents and employees to reconsider the threatened firing of 105 of 266 firefighter paramedics in order to balance a bogus budget on their backs.
As I described what transpired to my family back home, les parecio fantasia. Of course, because it is yet another episode of "As Hialeah Churns." Unfortunately for the residents and the business leaders and the taxpayers and the employees and public servants, the reality is they cannot turn the TV off. All they can hope for is to change the channel in November. But that's more than 45 days away and plenty of time for Alcaldito Carlos Hernandez to exact his revenge on the firefighters, who endorsed his archenemy, former Mayor Raul Martinez, and his mentor/master Julio Robaina's archenemy, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who beat the former Hialeah mayor for the post in June. Su alcaldito's arrogant and disrespectful demeanor throughout the public hearing -- at which certain members of the public were scolded for speaking -- is something I've never seen in more than 20 years covering government.
I'm still in disbelief, several hours later, and have been slow to write this partial post because the whole pathetic episode has left me rather shaken and raw.
And not because Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez had me ejected from the chambers and then from City Hall, as if it was her building. No. I left reeling because the very idea that 40 percent of the fire rescue force can be penciled out of the city is not only ludicrous because it is so dangerous, it is sick in its obvious political justification. Because the city electeds admit that they don't have to fire one single firefighter, if the union gives in to all its demands. Is this not extortion? Is this not blackmail? While it bothered me that I did not get to ask questions in the public forum about their misspending or to point out lies and discrepancies in their carefully prepared campaign speeches, Ladra wears the expulsion -- like the illegal trespass warning from last weekend's grand opening of the incumbents (minus one) campaign office -- like a badge of honor. Or a vanity dog tag? She can keep trying to get rid of me. I'll just furnish copies of my questions to others so they can ask for me. And, yes, in a public forum. I don't need to take credit for the question. I just need it to be answered directly and correctly, not with lies, half-truths taken out of context or complete wide-eyed silence, which they perfected Thursday.
From candidate and former mayor Julio Martinez: "How much will this raise insurance rates? As a taxpayer I want to know what my choices are. Is it between a $90 a year tax increase and a $300 insurance rate hike?" No answer from the council, which has seen no study or analysis of the impact this drastic cut in the fire rescue staff will have on insurance rates, response times and services. In 20 years covering government, Ladra has never seen a city consider even a 15 percent decrease in public safety personnel without doing a deep analysis of its consequences. And, duh. Someone else asked how many firefighters were required to meet the city's minimum needs. Still, no answer. Because they don't know. And Ladra might suggest that if the people of Hialeah can lose 105 firefighters, 40 percent of its force, without risking lives, then the council has been irresponsible in years past for approving a bloated fire department budget with too many positions. I was going to ask them this, too, before Gavelgirl had me removed from the chambers.
But if she thinks that's going to stop me, la pobre has had her big head stuck up Carlos' pants for too long and is losing oxygen. Ladra has come to love Hialeah -- the city and the people, not the government -- more and more every day and she is not going away, Gavelgirl. No matter how many times you push her. And no matter how many ways. Because now they are trying to discredit me or maybe embarrass me by digging up dirt from my somewhat reckless (read: incredibly divertida) youth. Because while I was illegally removed from a public meeting in a public building Thursday, since I did nothing wrong, I will have to admit to my readers -- since I want to preempt the alcaldito's attack strike -- that Ladra has not always been such a good dog. In fact, I used to hang out with a wild pack. And Gavelgirl and Su Alcaldito have apparently done some kind of investigation on me and found out about my checkered, colorful past. It's easy. I'm an open book. Transparency is a very clear thing, see?
One might think the alcaldito and Gavelgirl were busy enough campaigning against their own respective challengers and Professor Alex Morales, the former councilman sure to win the open seat in the November race. But they apparently have enough time and money (unless they used the taxpayer-funded police department) to do what campaign consultants call "opposition research" on Ladra, who isn't running for anything or from anybody. Since they have already taken to talking about their "juicy findings" with baited breath to anyone who will listen, Ladra feels she should let the rest of you in on my dirty, little secrets. I already told my parents, who should be sainted for having put up with me through all those dog days and who are the only people whose opinion on this public lynching attempt would have mattered (well, and the cohorts, and Candela), that these pseudo elected leaders were spreading the dirt on me. Mami y Papi support this decision to turn it back on them. In fact, my mom keeps saying she wants to have a little word with el alcaldito. And guess what, you cocky, crooked candidates? Those people whose ears you whisper my mud in, they come to me and laugh at your pathetic attempts to shoot the messenger because they know that you don't like the message. I must be saying and doing something right, just like Al Crespo is doing in the city of Miami. They tell me about every little wicked smile with which the electeds have disclosed these little details and say, "Can you believe these idiots think that kind of thing matters?" Just to prove to you that it doesn't, I'm going to take that wind out of your silly, smug sails.
What el alcaldito and Gavelgirl have been spreading about me is not lies, ladies and gentlemen. At least not all of it. Like I said, Ladra has walked on the wrong side of the tracks in the past, and in the late 1980s, I was arrested a couple of times, mostly because of my big mouth. One arrest, the most salient for the Hialeah chusmita council, was for misdemeanor marijuana possession in March of 1988 in Miami Beach. Not that a lot of you should be surprised. I did say that I had inhaled and that Ladra was a fan of Mother Nature when I wrote about a young county mayoral aide who had been popped buying weed. And I would lose all credibility if I were to deny that I may have smoked it myself, once or twice (wink, wink), including with people from this very political community -- people like, come to think of it, Vanessa Brito, who is working for el alcaldito and Gavelgirl and might have come up with this defamation strategy. It's okay. I'm a big girl and I can take it. If someone wants to discuss the merits of legalization, they'll have to wait until after November. Because I'm busy until then exposing the corruption and graft in Hialeah and do not have time to partake in any recreational activities, let alone debate it.
But there's more, dear readers. Brace yourselves. And I hope this doesn't decepcionarlos as much as today's hearing disappointed me in the democratic process, which is dead in Hialeah -- or, rather, has been murdered by the current elected body and their lackies. There are two other arrests -- one after another in June and July of 1987. The first was for disorderly conduct, battery on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence. And while I will fully admit to being disorderly -- which I am sure also does not surprise many -- the other two charges are trumped up because the female officer (read: fellow bitch) must have been on the rag when I interrupted her rendezvous at Wendy's with her boyfriend after my car broke down on the highway and, with a bladder infection, walked down the ramp to seek help. So, when she refused to help me, I noted the name and number on the badge and belligerently told her that she would be hearing from me. "That's right! You ain't seen the last of me." See? Told you guys I had a big mouth. She turned back and got in my face screaming at me and when I touched her on the shoulder -- to create a little personal space -- she flipped me around and cuffed me for resisting arrest and battery on a police officer. Everything was later reduced and not prosecuted because everyone knew it had been exaggerated. A month later, I got in trouble again because my pool shark idiot of a boyfriend at the time (part of the wrong pack) was beginning to reveal what a true pig he really was by picking on a war vet in a wheelchair and, just maybe, I had had a little wee too much to drink and I may have broken a pool stick (it was already cracked) over his incredibly dense head when he said something incredibly disgusting and offensive to the older drunk guy. Chris, the pool shark, laughed it off and slapped me on my jean pocket. But a girl who was eyeing him for herself (don't ask me why now because I have no idea what I saw in him) called the cops to get rid of me. I got charged with misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct (I may have yelled some choice words at that girl when the police arrived). I'm lucky to remember that much since it was nearly 25 years ago. I was 21 years old.
I'm going to celebrate my 46th birthday next month. Since then, I've summered in the south of France for two years, backpacked through Europe, edited my college newspaper, landed a job in the best newsroom in the world (from which I was never fired), won two team Pulitzer Prizes and a couple of Society of Professional Journalism "Green Eyeshade" awards, interviewed presidents and human rights activists, got married in Cuba and worked for 14 months to get my husband out of that island prison, had a baby (she's now 11 and I am going to have to have a little chat with her tomorrow because she reads my blog from time to time and I don't want to tell her not to... yes, that's all you did, alcaldito and Gavelgirl. Hope you are real proud of yourselves), got my mother-in-law out of Cuba, got a divorce, lost 150 pounds, started writing the next, great Cuban-American novel, took a buyout and left the newspaper, launched a media consulting business, failed miserably at that business, launched a website (which was more my thing), started this blog (which is most my thing) and moved back in with my wonderful, incredibly patient parents because I am most definitely not being paid by anyone to write this.
I have never committed any kind of fraud, like the alcaldito and Gavelgirl do daily. I have never hurt anyone, like they and the rest of the council did Thursday when they voted on that incredibly false budget that calls for firing 105 firefighters. I may not be proud of every little misstep in my life's travels, but I also have no regrets. I never sealed or expunged any of my records because I always felt that would lead folks to imagine far more serious infractions. "Suuuure it was just marijuana possession," I envisioned people saying if they found an expunged criminal record and thought it had to be something worse -- probably because that's what I would think.
My mistakes are my medals -- not your little found treasure, alcaldito -- and that's why I took them back from you. And I wear them proudly and transparently because they make me who I am today, but also because I am responsible and accountable for my actions.
I wish everybody, including the Hialeah council members, would be also.